Thursday night, the Boston Bruins faced off against the Buffalo Sabres at Buffalo’s Keybank Center in the first game of a home-and-home series. The fans were treated to an old-fashioned Adams Division game with big hits and fisticuffs throughout the first period. Buffalo jumped out to a 2-0 lead as the Bruins, once again, did not look ready for the start of the contest but as the game progressed, Boston scored four unanswered goals on their way to a 4-2 win over the Sabres.
Ryan Spooner led the way for Boston with a two-goal outing. David Krejci added a goal and an assist, giving him 496 career NHL points. Frank Vatrano garnered two assists and goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped 31 shots in the victory.
“Our leaders did a great job,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the game. “Krejci’s been playing well as of late. Bergeron and Marchand look more like the Bergeron and Marchand that we know, with their chemistry. We talked about Spooner, who’s been playing well as of late and Tuukka (Rask) was solid tonight. There’s a lot of credit to go around but we have an issue (slow starts); if we can fix that, it’ll make things a lot easier.”
Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno opened the scoring just 1:32 into the game. It was his fifth goal of the season assisted by Jack Eichel and Matt Moulson giving the Sabres a 1-0 lead.
The Sabres increased their lead to 2-0 when Kyle Okposo struck for his 10th of the season at 18:10 of the first period. Moulson and Sam Reinhart garnered the assists.
On both goals, Foligno and Okposo were left unattended in front of Rask making it easy for them to score their goals.
The period would end with Buffalo holding onto that 2-0 lead and a 16-8 edge in shots on goal.
The clubs combined for 30 penalty minutes in the period with the bulk coming after Boston lost forward David Backes to injury after taking what appeared to be a blindside hit to the head from Sabres forward William Carrier. Backes did not return to the game.
Whether it was the hit to Backes or the fact that the team had finally had enough of playing catch-up hockey, the Bruins’ coaches and veteran players spoke up in the dressing room between the first and second periods, as assistant coach Bruce Cassidy told the New England Sports Network, and it showed in the second period.
The Bruins returned to their patented defensive game. That strong defensive game, more often than not, leads to good offensive play and has brought the franchise success in the past.
Patrice Bergeron got the offense rolling for the Bruins when he sent a perfect pass from Brad Marchand, who was positioned along the right half-wall, past Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner at 3:20 of the second period cutting Buffalo’s lead to 2-1. It was Bergeron’s sixth goal of the season assisted by Marchand and Torey Krug.
David Krejci tied the score at 2-2 with his eighth goal of the year 16:13 into the period when he collected a cross-crease pass from Frank Vatrano. Krejci put the puck onto his backhand and beat Lehner high to his stick side.
The period would end with the clubs knotted at two goals apiece. Boston poured 16 shots at Lehner. Buffalo sent 10 shots at Rask.
It was more of the same in the third period, Boston continued to hold the advantage in territorial play, resulting in more scoring chances.
The chances turned into the go-ahead goal 16:07 into the period when Krejci out-battled a Sabres defenseman for the puck in the corner to Lehner’s right. Krejci found Spooner in the high slot and Spooner unleashed a slap shot that found the back of the net giving Boston a 3-2 lead. Vatrano garnered the secondary assist on the play.
With Boston protecting that one-goal lead, Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma pulled Lehner from the crease with 1:20 to play in the third period in favor for the extra skater but it backfired. Spooner added his second goal of the contest 29 seconds later increasing the Bruins lead to 4-2 with 51 seconds to play in the frame. The unassisted goal was Spooner’s seventh of the season.
When the game ended, Boston had put 13 shots on goal in the final period for a total of 38. Buffalo managed seven shots and finished the game with 33.
“Slow start again but I think the second and third (periods) were huge for us so it was good,” said Spooner. “It’s kind of a trend here, maybe in the last two or three games. I think as a team, not really sure what’s going on but it’s something we need to discuss. The second and third (periods) have been great for us but the first period has been a bit of an issue.”
“The really good thing is we battled back in the second (period) and then, in the third (period), we just took it to them,” Rask added. “We weren’t afraid to lose the game. We wanted to win it and we showed it.”
Despite the win, Krejci agreed with his teammates and would like to see the Bruins establish a lead in the early going of games.
“We know we can come back from being down by a couple of goals but we should focus more on starting the games the right way and play with the lead,” Krejci said.
With the win, the Bruins (19-15-4, 42 points) remain in third place in the Atlantic Division. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points.
The Sabres (13-14-8, 34 points) remain seventh in the Atlantic Division.
The clubs will travel to Boston for a New Year’s Eve showdown Saturday afternoon (1:00 pm; NESN, MSG-B, NHL.TV) at TD Garden.
The win was Boston’s sixth consecutive road victory over Buffalo dating back to October 18, 2014.
The game was the first time the Bruins, in three-plus weeks, have scored more than three goals in a game.
In his last eight starts versus Buffalo, Tuukka Rask in 8-0-0 with a 1.35 goals against average and a .957 save percentage.
Ryan Spooner has four goals and three assists with a plus-6 rating in his last six games against the Sabres.
The Bruins have trailed 2-0 or 3-0 in six of the past 12 games.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.